Be Patient

The “brothers” thrice addressed in James 5:7-12 are the righteous poor of James 5:1-6 — that’s what the “therefore” is there for in verse 7.

They are James’ fellow believers who have been defrauded by the rich who have withheld their fairly earned wages. They are the harvesters who have cried out against those who, at the expense of their workers, have lived in luxury and in self-indulgence on earth. They are the children of God whose cries, as James reminds them, have also been heard by the Lord of hosts in heaven. They are those unable to stand against the oppressive elite, yet called to stand firm in their faith.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

(James 5:7-8 ESV)

Be patient. That’s the command to obey in this passage. Be patient.

Be of a long spirit. Don’t lose heart. Bravely persevere. Keep on keepin’ on.

Establish your hearts. Stabilize your emotions. Firmly set your mind. Constantly fix your gaze. Lock on your source of hope.

I’ve never been a laborer in the field.  Well, actually I have . . . one summer after high school . . . sorry to the owner who thought we were burning down his hay barn . . . but I digress.

Never had wages unjustly withheld by a greedy boss. Never been overtly oppressed or defrauded or taken advantage of to the point where it impacted the ability to feed my family. But, have I known circumstance which seemed overwhelming? Encountered what I thought were no win situations with no way out? Grown weary? Been discouraged? Thought that the Elijah plan of retreating to a cave and curling up in a fetal position made sense? Hmmm . . . maybe. Who hasn’t to some degree or another?

And so, for the weary pilgrim, for the guy who’s been dealt a bad hand, for the gal who’s been served up lemons for way too long and is tired of trying to make lemonade, the indwelling Spirit says through the living word, don’t lose heart. And how come?

. . . for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Sometimes you need to focus afresh on the long game in order to stay in the game. You need to be reminded of the destination in order to continue to endure the journey. See a glimpse of the prize to keep running the race.

The Lord is coming, so we keep going. His promises are sure–and so, with holy determination and Holy Spirit enabling, we press on steadfastly.

We commit again and move forward, if only feebly, and the Lord is compassionate and shows mercy (5:11b).  We persevere patiently, and He remains faithful. And we keep on keepin’ on, because Jesus, perhaps soon and very soon, is coming back.

And it’s gonna be worth it all.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Content to be a Friend of the Bridegroom

You gotta love John the Baptizer. Sure, maybe his attire was a little unorthodox. And I’m not sure I would run out and buy a new breakfast cereal that he created with his own “secret ingredients.” But spend just a little bit of time considering him, and he’s pretty inspirational.

Easy, perhaps, to overlook John, though. Maybe because that was his whole purpose. He didn’t draw attention to himself but to Someone else. His mission wasn’t to be in the limelight but to shine the spotlight on Another.

But I think there’s some value to noodling on this guy a bit. After all, Jesus said of him, ” I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” (Luke 7:28).

Here’s what caught my attention this morning . . . John was content to be a friend of the Bridegroom

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

(John 3:27-30 ESV)

Context? Some of John’s disciples come to him with a problem they’re picking up on. John’s losing his following as they go to Jesus to be baptized. The ministry’s coming to an end. The flash mobs are fewer and far between. The people are going to Someone else. And so John’s disciples are asking, “What are we going to do about it?” And John’s response, in essence?  Rejoice!

When it came to Christ becoming the focus, John was more than content to step to the side. After all, he says, the wedding isn’t about the wedding party, it’s about the bride and groom. The wedding attendants stand aside as witnesses of “those two crazy kids” coming together to unite their lives. The friends line the platform while the happy couple takes center stage. They’re lost to themselves, completely focused on the union about to be formed.

And even the friend standing next to the bridegroom knows that he’s not really “the best man.” He gets that the best man is actually the guy next to him offering the ring to his blushing bride. The friend doesn’t want to do anything to attract attention to himself. Instead, he does everything he can to ensure that the focus is duly placed on the one whose voice people need to hear.

John was thrilled to be part of the wedding party and to be able to get close enough to stand next to the Bridegroom. He rejoiced, his joy being made complete, just to be near enough to hear the Bridegroom’s calling, “Will you be mine?” And then to see people respond, “I will,” as they came to Jesus–even if it meant that John’s “day job” was drying up.

How often do I fall into thinking that the wedding is about me?

Oh, maybe it is to some degree if I’m remembering that I’m the bride. But even then, my place “at the altar” is all because of the price He paid for my sin as the Lamb of God. It’s all about His persistent pursuit of me, a wayward sheep, as the Great Shepherd who came to seek and save the lost.

I might do well, however, to think of myself more as the friend of the Bridegroom. There for Him. There but to serve Him. Fully prepared to fade into the background. Not desiring to draw attention to myself but asking only to be a magnifying glass through which Jesus is brought into clearer view by those who need to see Him.

Instead of my joy being dependent on how much recognition I get, or the amount of blessing I think I’m getting by being at the wedding, my joy, instead, should be made complete when Jesus is exalted. When Jesus alone is the object of attention. When people, as it were, turn their back on me because they’re longing to look into the face of the glorious Bridegroom.

Truly, He must increase, I must decrease. If only in my own eyes. If only as part of my own agenda.

It should be enough to just be standing there with Him. My eyes too fixed on Him alone. Doing nothing that would distract others from setting their gaze upon Him.

Content to be a friend of the Bridegroom.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Making Sense of the Ups and Downs

At first read, you give your head a shake and then go back for a second read. And then you realize this guy is flip-flopping like a fish outta water. Or, as my friend used to say, emotionally he’s up and down like a toilet seat. But that’s Jeremiah’s reality.

In Jeremiah 20, the prophet suddenly goes from giving a “thus says the Lord” to a corrupt priest who has been persecuting him (1:6), to giving the Lord a piece of His mind for the lame ministry that’s been placed on him (7-18).

O LORD, You have deceived me, and I was deceived; You are stronger than I, and You have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.

(Jeremiah 20:7 ESV)

“You pushed me into this, GOD!” That’s how Peterson puts it in The Message. You set me up for this no-win ministry and I let You. But then again, who can resist You? And the result? “I’m a public joke. They all poke fun at me.” (MSG)

And so Jeremiah goes off. He rails on the personal impact of his offensive ministry. So offensive, in fact, even his close friends plot against him, having had enough of his endless doom and gloom, supposedly prophetic word (v.10). He wants to stop delivering the unpopular message of Babylonian captivity, but he can’t. And that because the word of the LORD burns in him like a fire “and I’m weary of holding it in, and I cannot” (v.9).

But then there’s a but.

But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. . . . O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see Your vengeance upon them, for to You have I committed my cause.

(Jeremiah 20:11a, 12 ESV)

All of sudden, Jeremiah flips from focusing on his lot in life and looks up to the LORD of life. He remembers that the awesome One (NKJV)–He who is a mighty and dreaded warrior, He who knows all things, the One to whom Jeremiah has committed all things–that the LORD of hosts is with him. He refocuses, turning his gaze from himself and his circumstances, and sets his mind on things above where He sees afresh the LORD of hosts reigning. And it’s enough of a redirect that Jeremiah breaks forth in spontaneous praise.

Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

(Jeremiah 20:13 ESV)

But then, just as suddenly, He flops again.

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! . . .Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

(Jeremiah 20:14, 18 ESV)

One moment he’s confident of victory, next he wishes he’d never been born. He knows he’s walking in the path God has set for him, but he feels as if he’s gonna explode if he stays on that path. When he fixes his eyes on the Lord, praise can’t help but come from his lips. But when his heart again weighs the burden of his life circumstance, he’s not sure he even wants breath any longer coming from those lips.

Like my friend used to say, up and down like a toilet seat!

And I sit back and say to myself, “Self, what am I to make of this?” How do you make sense of the ups and downs? To which comes to mind,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

(2Corinthians 4:7 ESV)

Fragile, cracked pots called into service by the Potter. Weak and weary soldiers enlisted by the Commander of the Army of the Lord. Feeble servants told to occupy until His return by the Master. And there’s gonna be times when we’re feeling, “Enough’s enough!” And those are the times to look up . . . to look waaaayyy up . . . and see Jesus (Heb. 12:2-3). Those are the times to remember the Word of God, to recount the promises of God, to reaffirm the presence of God, and to reenlist by the grace of God.

Jeremiah, was not some super-hero called to some super-human task but, like Elijah, “was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). And that nature has a tendency to flip flop like a fish out of water. And that too, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

So we do not lose heart. Instead we keep on keepin’ on. Looking up when we’re down. Getting up, knowing that we may very well stumble again. Confident that these things are transient and are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory (2Cor. 4:16-18).

And that, by His grace. And only for His glory.

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More Grace

His letter is written to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” So James’ epistle was penned for believers but with a particular Hebrew flavor. Maybe not surprising given that it’s thought this could be the first NT book written, and thus written to a church that was still largely Jewish.

So it’s for those who are born again. Those who are new creations in Christ. And maybe that’s what makes the opening verses of chapter 4 a bit disturbing.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:1-4 ESV)

What? Quarrels? Fights? Murder? And all this among the believers?!? Say it ain’t so!

What happened to “and all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44)? Or, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (Acts 4:32)? Even if you understand that James isn’t referring to murder in the literal sense but in the Sermon on the Mount sense, that of intense anger towards someone (Mt. 5:21-22), you’re still asking yourself, what’s going on?

What could so corrupt the unity of the Spirit believers were born again into (1Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:1-3)? What could so mar the testimony of love for one another that Jesus said would mark His disciples (Jn. 13:35)?

Two things, apparently. Passions at war within us, and love for the world around us. Evidently a lethal combo for the church being the church.

The nature of the flesh is to want. To desire what it thinks it must have to be satisfied. What it feels it needs in order to experience pleasure. And when someone else has that something, there can be a tendency to turn on that person. Either out of jealousy, or of trying to compete for it. Cue a catalyst for conflict.

And what feeds the flesh? The world. The system of values, priorities, and prizes that man has built up for themselves in order to satisfy “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1Jn. 2:16). The world feeds the flesh. And flesh wars against others driven by flesh. And then you have quarrels, and fightings, and murders . . . oh my!!!

What’s the answer? Stop it!!!

It’s that simple, says James. Stop coveting and start praying, asking for what you think you need. And if you don’t get it, then know that you ask amiss.

What’s more, stop befriending the world (by the way, that’s not BFF type of befriending, that’s getting into bed with type of “friends” . . . you adulterous people). For to befriend the world is to set yourself up as an enemy of God. Why would believers hang the enemies flag in front of their homes? Oh yeah, the flesh!

Ugly mirror to be looking into this morning. Bitter food to be chewing on. But thank God for the word but.

But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

(James 4:6 ESV)

More grace. Greater grace. Larger grace. Stronger grace. That’s the grace our God dispenses . . . and dispenses freely and abundantly.

And it’s available to the humble. To those who look in the mirror of Scripture and see their own reflection in the twelve tribes of the dispersion. Who refuse to say, “Not me! That’s someone else,” but know the battle between the flesh and the Spirit is their daily reality. Who, by the Spirit’s enabling power, say, “No!” to the flesh, and “Forgive me” to God. Who preach the gospel to themselves — the blood’s power to forgive and cleanse, the empty tomb’s power to allow those once in bondage to the flesh to live in newness of life. To believe in, and avail themselves of, “but He gives more grace.”

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(James 4:10 ESV)

Yes He will.

Because of more grace. And that for His glory.

Amen?

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Justified By Works

Context is everything. And that there are two sides to the salvation coin needs to be grappled with. Such is the paradox created by one three-word phrase in what Luther referred to as “a right strawy epistle.”

By “strawy” Luther had in mind 1Corinthians 3:12 and the letter he was referring to was the letter of James. At one point at least, Luther thought that James’ letter, as material for building on the foundation of the gospel, was more akin to “wood, hay, and straw” than it was to “gold, silver, and precious stones.” And you get where he’s coming from if only from considering how James uses the three-word phrase, “justified by works.”

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

(James 2:21-25 ESV)

Justified by works. For those of us who are not ashamed of the gospel, the instinctive response when reading that is akin to hearing fingernails dragged across a chalkboard. What’s more, it creates a sort of systematic theology whiplash as you do a double-take when you recall what Paul has written:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

(Romans 4:2-4 ESV)

. . . yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ . . .

(Galatians 2:16 ESV)

Holy tension, Batman!

No away around it, though. When you read the latter part of James 2, verses 14 though 26, you need to give it some serious consideration. There’s some wrestling to be done with the dichotomy created by this portion of Holy Writ. And, even encountering it year after year as you go through your reading plan, there’s serious re-consideration and some wrestling again that seems necessary.

From what I know, Luther had no issue with James as part of the canon of Scripture. And I believe that all Scripture is God-breathed, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2Tim. 3:16). So I can’t just blow by it. I need to hover over it and let it continue to equip me for “every good work” (2Tim. 3:17).

You can’t get away from it. While James might be somewhat blunt, the assertion is crystal clear, “faith apart from works is dead” (2:26b) . . . it is a non-faith.

Both James and Paul assert that we are saved, that righteousness is imputed to a person, by faith alone. And both use Abraham as the great example.

But James is lead by the Holy Spirit (something else true of all Scripture) to highlight the facet of faith that says where true saving seed is sown, real fruit is evident. That a profession of salvation apart from some evidence of sanctification does not compute. That the reality of regeneration is manifest in some objective display of righteousness. That real belief eventually bears right behavior.

James does not contradict the essence of the gospel, instead he contends for his brothers and sisters to live out the gospel. A living faith should be evident by how we live for the kingdom. Evident in who and what we worship. Evident in our moral compass. Evident in how we assume our ambassadorship for the kingdom. Evident in how we pursue gospel community. Evident in how we steward our resources. Evident in how we prioritize our calendars. Evident in how we make our way on mission.

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

(James 2:18b ESV)

Justified by faith alone in Christ alone? Absolutely!

Justified by works, too? Really? Yeah . . . really.

A mysterious dynamic of grace. A manifest reality for the glory of God.

Amen?

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Knowing and Understanding God

Maybe I watch too many court room dramas, but as I’m reading in Jeremiah this morning I’m envisioning an unrelenting prosecutor with a seemingly unending closing argument. The indictment against Judah is based on a mountain of evidence. Accused of “perpetual backsliding,” the evidence is presented, again and again, proving beyond any reasonable doubt that “everyone” had turned “to his own course” (8:5-6).

They had forsaken the law of God and thus, were left to their own counsels fashioned according to their own stubborn and evil hearts. The result? They had set themselves on a course of going backward and not forward (9:24). Rather than purpose with holy purpose to follow His ways, they followed their own inclinations which set them on a path of pursuing false gods (9:14).

And with self determination and corrupt worship, came corrupt practices. Everyone deceived their neighbors. No one spoke truth (9:5). Greed for unjust gain was the consuming motivator. And that, says the Lord, had become the operational reality for “everyone”, from the least to the greatest (9:10).

And yet, unlike the TV courtroom prosecutor concerned only with getting a conviction and sending the bad guys away for a long, long, time, God relentlessly presents His case that His people might humbly amend their ways (7:3). He is prepared to punish their sin, that it might refine their souls (9:7). While He speaks with unmatched and unchallenged authority, He weeps with a broken heart as He looks upon His people’s demise (9:1). With justice, there is a desire for mercy.

Thus, amidst prosecutorial fervor there comes a tenderhearted plea.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Of all the motivators in life–wisdom, power, riches . . . and let’s add to that family, promotions, pleasures, and toys–to understand and know God is the only one worth glorying in. Because to know God, to know what delights Him, is to set right the foundation for the pursuit of all other things. When He becomes our true North, navigating everything else allows us to move forward and not backward.

But that the God of creation, the Maker of the universe, the Sovereign over all things could be known should, in and of itself, spike our awe-o-meter. That a mere man might be confident in boasting that, in some measure, they can comprehend an eternal God? What’s that about?!?

But that’s exactly what’s happening this morning as I drink some coffee and hover over His word.  I’m continuing to get to know and understand the God who allows me to call Him, my God.

As in Ecclesiastes I’m reminded that God makes everything beautiful in its time and has put eternity into the heart’s of men and women (Eccl. 3.11). As I behold the Lamb of God in John’s gospel and wonder again at Messiah arriving incognito so that men might “find Him” rather than bursting on the seen in heavenly glory so that no one could miss Him (Jn. 3:36, 41). As I’m reminded by James that God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (Ja. 2:5). And even as I listen in, like a fly on the wall, as God, through His appointed prosecutor, Jeremiah, reveals His holy, holy, holy character as He indicts His people, that they might return to Him.

In all this, gaining some understanding of the LORD of heaven and earth. Aided by His illuminating Spirit, knowing more and more of that which delights Him. Believing that through a dynamic I cannot see, He is continuing to transform me through the renewing of my mind with His living and active Word.

Amazing!

What grace! To Him be all the glory!

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Remaining Steadfast and Loving Him

Chewing on steadfastness this morning thanks to James. To remain, to persevere, to endure–something to be desired, if even at great cost. That’s why James says we should “count it all joy” when we encounter “trials of various kinds.”

. . . for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 

(James 1:3 ESV)

Steadfastness is a goal worthy of being sought. When it marks a person as a foundational trait, when the root of endurance goes deep and remains strong, it bears fruit in various and diverse ways. When fully developed, keepin’ on keepin’ on has a profound impact on the total character of a person.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

(James 1:4 ESV)

In fact, there is a blessing promised for those who hang in there.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial . . . 

(James 1:12a ESV)

But here’s the thing I’m chewing on this morning. If I’m reading this right, there is also a connection between remaining steadfast and loving Him.

. . . for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him. 

(James 1:12b ESV)

The blessing promised for persevering through hard times, for enduring seasons of testing, is the crown of life. But what jumps out this morning is that the crown isn’t promised to the victor, or to the overcomer, but to the those who love Him. It’s not the reward for being tough when the going gets tough, nor the prize for powering through when being overpowered. Instead, the crown of life is for those who love God. Evidently, those who love God are those able to stand amidst the storm when the storm rages.

Remaining steadfast, it would seem, is less about willpower and more about “not my will” power. Those who love God, trust God. Those who love God, know that God loves them and has promised to never leave them nor forsake them. Those who love God, believe God is working all things for their good and His glory. Those who love God, rest in His sovereign purposes and promises, being confident nothing has reached them that hasn’t passed through His fingers.

Isn’t that the core of being steadfast? Not our ability, but our adoration? Not of relying on our self-determination, but of responding to the Son’s self-sacrifice on our behalf?

Love for God, the great accepter of whatever the circumstance. Love for God, the enduring motivator to cling to Him even when our strength is failing. Love for God, the catalyst for knowing the supernatural power to persevere under mounting pressure.

For love casts out fear (1Jn. 4:18).

What’s more, it bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things. Thus, love endures all things (1Cor. 13:7).

The crown of life is promised for those who love Him. And those who love Him–and that by His gracious enabling and power–remain steadfast.

Worship is fuel for persistence. The testing of our faith, an opportunity for our adoration of the Savior to be manifest through our endurance.

Remaining steadfast and loving Him.

And that by His grace. And that for His glory.

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